Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (Deluxe)
Let It Be (Deluxe) [Masterpiece]
Rock’s lovable losers show us how to succeed and fail courageously
As if to fulfill some ancient musical prophecy, The Replacements were delivered in a weird twist on the virgin birth: shot naked, motherless and screaming from the defiantly extended middle finger of Johnny Cash and straight into this world, charged with the high-holy task of unconsciously saving rock ’n’ roll from itself and all its bloated high-art pretension.
Of course, they didn’t seem like heroes at first. They were just a bunch of regular-looking drunks from Minneapolis—not perfectly coiffed stadium-rock virtuosos or fashion-obsessed art rockers from some preordained center of cool like L.A. or New York. They were everyday fellas who, together, beat the odds every so often, reaching greatness far beyond their means: underachievers overachieving, real people (who could’ve been me or you or anyone else if we’d had the guts); a band surviving on momentum, spilled beer and underdog charm.
It’s all in the “Bastards of Young” video. During a decade of flashy images, mega pop stars and New Wave self-consciousness, how did The Replacements choose to visually accompany one of the greatest disaffected-youth anthems ever written? Four black-and-white minutes with a camera trained on a throbbing speaker cone. Occasionally, some guy walks across the screen. At the end, he gets up, kicks the shit out of the speaker and walks out, slamming the door behind him.
The video was a big Cash-ian “fuck you” to what the band saw as the preposterous silliness of MTV. But “Bastards” still succeeded as a video, even as it mocked the form, perfectly embodying the mixed-up storm of angst, lust, boredom, hope and confusion that Paul Westerberg’s lyrics so beautifully and sincerely captured in the song. And there is the essence of The Replacements—simultaneously stupid and profound, a gang of reckless, wiseass pranksters accidentally slipping on their own banana peel headfirst into the sacred sublime.
When word first arrived about these deluxe reissues of the band’s first four albums, it was a surprise given the enduring legend that Westerberg and his co-conspirators—in a typical attempt to derail the band on its path to stardom—had thrown all their Twin/Tone masters into the Mississippi River. Turns out that this wasn’t entirely true: In 2001, longtime Replacements manager Peter Jesperson told Rolling Stone, “Most everything they threw out, we had back-ups of.”
Thank God, because listeners now get the best of both scenarios: The mythology is true—the band did have the nerve to throw the tapes in the river—but Jesperson wisely made sure the music survived, and now we can hear it 25 years later, sonically improved and with plenty of intriguing extras and outtakes.
While The Replacements’ Hüsker Dü-referencing speed-punk debut Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and subsequent slop-rock EP Stink sound culled from the same lo-fi/high-energy sessions, sophomore LP Hootenanny finds the band diversifying beyond punk into blues, country, rockabilly, surf and even electronica. All three of these early releases are rewarding albeit hit-or-miss affairs (like many of the band’s albums), full of triumphant highs and crushing lows. But the crown jewel of the Twin/Tone era is 1984’s Let It Be, the first in the band’s string of consecutive masterpieces (followed by the Sire Records releases Tim and Pleased To Meet Me).
Foreshadowed by Hootenanny standout “Color Me Impressed,” Let It Be finally proved that—in addition to heart and true punk-rock attitude—The Replacements had phenomenal songwriting chops, evidenced by Westerberg breakthroughs like jangle-pop gem “I Will Dare” (featuring R.E.M.’s Peter Buck), melodic riff rocker “Favorite Thing” and the album’s trio of weary, sympathetic, heart-on-sleeve ballads: “Unsatisfied,” “Androgynous” and “Sixteen Blue.”
Every bit as telling as the finest songs on Let It Be, though, is Hootenanny’s album-opening title track, a painfully tuneless wreck of a blues shuffle on which The Replacements irresponsibly swap instruments. The result sounds worse than most high-school bands at their first practice, but The Replacements still had the balls to not only put it on the record but lead with it. Of course, if they didn’t tank so grandly from time to time, they wouldn’t be The Replacements. They are the endearing juxtaposition of abject failure and wild success. And this is precisely what makes them so appealing—because they showed their listeners the amazing heights any of us could reach if we tried our best and remained, unapologetically, ourselves. But the kicker is that, while The Replacements did this, they refused to airbrush over their flaws, instead holding a magnifying glass up to them, and because of it they’re as human and relatable as any outfit in rock history. The Replacements are the People’s band, and these essential early albums track them from their basement beginnings to their emergence as rock ’n’ roll’s reluctant populist heroes.
Steve LaBate is a Paste associate editor.